Frank Maher, CM, class '47
Father Frank Maher died on the 19th March, 1998, the Feast of St Joseph, as he had lived, at peace and without fear or fuss. His funeral liturgy was a most moving experience and celebration of his life. It was also a reflection of the amazing number of people Frank touched during his lifetime. He now rests with his Vincentian confreres in the surroundings where he lived most of his life.
Frank came as a boy to Castleknock in 1940 and, apart from eight years preparation for the priesthood and three years in St Patrick’s College, Armagh, he was to fulfil his entire apostolate in Castleknock. His school days there were happy times both in class and on the playing field. The first time I saw Frank was a small diminutive figure on a wet, miserable day at Lansdowne Road, playing in the final of the Senior Rugby Cup in 1947. It was to be a “Roy of the Rovers” sort of day for him for he got both the scores that brought the senior cup back to Castleknock. Reading the account of the match in the Castleknock Chronicle one is surprised at the little mention he receives until, at the end of the article the name of the author is recorded. It was Frank himself! But all who knew him in later life as an outstanding rugby trainer, whose influence for good on the boys he coached was accepted by all, would not be surprised at such self-effacement.
Leaving school, Frank entered the Vincentian seminary in Blackrock and was ordained in 1955. He was appointed to St Patrick’s College, Armagh and it was with a sad heart he received his appointment back to Castleknock in 1958. He really enjoyed those years in the North of Ireland, sharing life with members of a delightful community, training the senior Gaelic team, (Frank was nothing if not catholic in his taste for sport), teaching class and a member of the local orchestra, much influenced by the late Father Hederman, and with unbounded admiration for the President, Father Sheridan. Frank had many heroes during his life!
Soon, however he was once again completely involved in his new apostolate here in Castleknock. Frank was a dedicated teacher who won the respect of his pupils. He was keenly interested in history and much of his enthusiasm was passed on to the pupils. He prepared his work thoroughly and achieved excellent results for his students in their examinations, including a first place in history in Ireland.
As the years passed, it was in teaching religion that his personality was at its strongest. Not always the easiest subject to teach, with Frank it was integrated into his whole priestly life. His prowess as a player and trainer, his sermons with their constant theme, ‘Jesus is your closest friend’ (as with St Vincent he preached the one sermon in a thousand ways), his preparation, his use of visual aids and anecdotes, and his sincerity – all combined and were evident to the boys. They trusted him implicitly and sought him as confessor, counsellor and friend. Even when during the last years of his life his health was in decline he still retained his religion classes and organised the retreats of all the class forms in the school. Sometimes he came from class despondent and frustrated but soon his mood would revive and ‘so-and so’ was not too bad really! For many years Frank was the musical director of the liturgy in the college. Himself a fine musician he demanded a high standard from the boys – and he usually got it.
What was evident from the large attendance who came from all walks of life to his funeral, was Frank’s enormous apostolate beyond the walls of the college. Fr Donal Sullivan, who is now a P.P. in Florida, wrote about Frank for the Castleknock Chronicle:
I feel myself in a rather uniquely privileged position in the different ways that I have known the late Frank Maher. We were close friends, (this is not a claim to be unique, as Frank had very many friends); we were colleagues on the staff at Knock for 24 years, (again others can claim a similar relationship); but when to those two, I add the knowledge I had of Frank’s ‘other life’, as he liked to call it, I am a jump ahead of most others. Frank’s ‘other life’ was the time he spent in priestly ministry in Florida during the summer months every year.
Frank found that working in Florida gave him a wonderful opportunity to use his extraordinary Christ-like compassion and concern (my description, not Frank’s) for people in a parish setting. The people of Ponte Vedra looked forward to Frank’s arrival each summer, not just because he was such a genial and warm person, or because he was an enjoyable golf partner, but more especially because of the impact he made on their lives through his conversations, preaching and spiritual guidance.
After the news of Frank’s death percolated to Florida, Fr Danaher arranged a Memorial Mass at which I had the honour to preach. Fr Seamus O’Flynn also concelebrated the Mass. Fr Frank’s sister, Mary, had rung me the previous evening and told me about the Funeral Mass in Castleknock. My ability to share this with the parishioners present was something they welcomed and needed. It gave them, and me, an opportunity to celebrate the life of Frank Maher and to thank God for the effect he had on our lives.
At the lunch afterwards in the parish hall, different parishioners told me stories of the impact that Frank had in their lives. I could only marvel at the wonderful way that this man of God, whom I have been blessed to call my friend, could be used by the Lord. One young woman, whose family was very close to Frank, told me of how she and her boyfriend talked to Frank about getting married. He was quite definite that they should not do so; she followed his advice and later married someone else. She is quite certain that her first choice would have been disastrous. Having spent many an hour late at night in Castleknock, with Frank, as he agonised over changing his scrum half or tight head prop before a Cup match, it was remarkable to know how decisive he could be in matters of the spirit!
Frank’s involvement in the Charismatic Renewal movement from its beginnings in Ireland was quite total and had a profound influence on his spirituality. He was certainly in constant demand by Prayer Groups and at Charismatic Congresses, and he was sought out as a spiritual director by many religious and lay people. His widespread influence was due to the fact that he lived what he preached. Jesus was his intimate friend – he based everything on that.
His large library reflected his spirituality, books on Christology, Mariology, prayer, scripture, charismatic writings, centres of pilgrimage, liturgical music and lives of the saints, St Theresa of Liseux especially. 98% of his library was devoted to such material, the other 2% were books on rugby, rugby coaching, golf, the spy novels of Helen Maclnnes and videos of films of John Wayne! One can understand why he so much admired John Wayne. The good guy always overcame the bad!
In his community life Frank was much loved. Suffice it to say that he was an excellent companion, a man of prayer and always available to his confreres. It is doubtful if he was ever uncharitable, – as already stated, there were only heroes. During the last years of his life he suffered much bad health but his faith and closeness to Jesus never faltered. His death was certainly the going home of a beloved son.
As I write I look out on the pathway up the hill that leads to the little Castle graveyard. Since Frank’s death many people, on their own or in small groups, have made their way up to his grave to pray for him and, perhaps, to pray to him. May he rest in peace
John Doyle, C.M.
FRANCIS MAHER C.M.
Born: 27 June, 1929 in Dublin
Entered CM: 7 September, 1947.
Final Vows: 8 September, 1949
Ordained Priest: 4 June, 1955 in Clonliffe College by John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin.
1955-’58: St Patrick’s, Armagh
1958-’98: St Vincent’s, Castleknock
Died: 19 March 1998, Castleknock
This poem was left on Frank Maher’s coffin in the College Chapel in Castleknock.
To Father Maher
You never had any children
But you were a father in every way
You were a dear friend to so many
You devoted your life to us
Everyone around you felt happy and loved
You were a genuine person who
Had an abyss of love for everyone
For this reason we respected you so much
We gave you the guard of honour
You gave us your life
We will never forget you
As your memory will live with us
Father may you be rewarded in heaven
A junior student
A letter from Clongowes received shortly after Fr Maher's death.
This a letter which has been on my conscience for ages and I am quite ashamed that it has taken so long to "put pen to paper". However, I am sure that the subject of these lines will make allowances, even if he does so with a wry smile at the thought of my discomfort!
I am referring, of course, to the late Frank Maher.
First of all, may I say how delighted, if that is the right word to use, I was to be able to have the privilege of being with you all for his last Mass on March 21. It was a real celebration of the life and passing of a quite exceptional person and your homily was just spot on, enabling us to recall and relive many special moments of our own contact with Frank.
I have met few people during all my years, well over 30 now, of involvement in the schools scene, especially through rugby, whose example was any thing near that of Frank. He exuded a calm and serenity which always made for a very pleasant meeting whether one was in direct competition or either one of us was a mere spectator. His presence was a comforting reassurance when one was facing up to defeat in a Cup-match and he was never anything but gracious in his own victory when fortune smiled on him.
Some memories of Frank stand out - either through third parties or direct personal - all of them recall a particular facet of his exceptional personality.
The first was of the overriding importance which he gave to the individual, over and above the fortune of the team ..... what I mean to say is that he realised that a person is a unique being and has rights which no one and nothing, not even Senior Cup, can gainsay. To enunciate this principle is already indication of high standards - to live it out, as I once saw Frank doing suggests an exceptional person of the highest moral integrity.
Another is a story I only heard from someone in Clongowes. This teacher had brought a lower-order (3rd or 4ths) team to 'Knock and finally left for home without one of the Clongowes players who could not be found. "He can find his own way home", was his attitude, having regularly had to wait for the culprit on more than one occasion. Sometime after arriving in Clongowes, the teacher in question was leaving for home himself, when a car drove up to the Castle and out stepped the criminal, all smiles. Frank had found him somewhat lost in Castleknock, had listened to his story and promptly got him into his car and drove him home. How many of us would ever have thought of doing such a thing in those circumstances?
The final memory is of meeting Frank each Easter in Lourdes, without fail but always unexpectedly - when whoever of the two of us first spied the other would sort of creep up on the unsuspecting victim and suggest that he would be better off down at the Grotto ..... or simply to commiserate/congratulate on a Cup-defeat/victory ..... or merely to reflect on the state of the world in general.
I missed him there this year.
When one says that we'll never see his like again, it is not just mere cliché. We were privileged to have known him and to have been touched by his friendly charm. I was very sorry that I never knew that he was in hospital, but John West and Caleb Powel told me what a great experience it was for them to visit him there. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone, nor did I ever hear anyone say a bad word about him.
May I renew my sympathy to all your community and also to his Family, and thank you for sharing him with us. I am grateful for having known him and I hope that his spirit will continue to live on in those of us who remember him so fondly.
Yours sincerely in Domino,
Michael SHElL, S.J.